Saturday, November 30, 2013

Our Mr. Crenna

Happy birthday to Richard Crenna, born November 30, 1926 in Los Angeles, California. Some fans might most readily recognize him as Luke from the long-running sitcom The Real McCoys (1957-63), or from his appearances with Sylvester Stallone in three "Rambo" movies, but to me he's first and foremost the nerdy teenager Walter Denton from radio and TV's Our Miss Brooks.

Crenna as another teenager on I Love Lucy.
A busy radio actor throughout his teen years, Crenna was already in his early twenties when he joined the ensemble cast of Eve Arden's radio comedy as the gawky high school student with the squawky voice. When Our Miss Brooks transferred to TV in 1952, Crenna tried to bow out of the role he'd outgrown, but acquiesced when Miss Arden implored him to help get the video version off to a solid start. He would ultimately spend three more years as Walter on TV -- "I had a very delayed puberty," he would later say with a laugh -- before being written out of the series in 1955.

Unlike many child performers, Crenna (who changed his professional name from Dick to Richard as he aged), was equally successful as an adult, enjoying a career notable both for its longevity and its variety. It took time to change his image from gangly teen to leading man, but he managed to do so, and would be in demand for the next several decades. He won an Emmy for his role in the 1985 TV-movie The Rape of Richard Beck, and had a recurring role on CBS' Judging Amy at the time of his death in 2003. Interviewed by syndicated columnist Gene Handsaker in 1967, Crenna gave a clue to his success as a performer when he said, "Everything you do can't be great. But you have to go in feeling you can make a 100 per cent contribution of your talent. An actor just doing a part for the money isn't giving the producer his money's worth."

You can find more information on the history of Our Miss Brooks, both on radio and television, in my book Eve Arden: A Chronicle of All Film, Television, Radio and Stage Performances. Unfortunately, the TV show hasn't had a proper DVD release, but you can catch Walter in all his ear-bruising glory on YouTube.

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